First Light

Just after dawn I set out along the gravel road. At the spot I had marked I climbed over the barbwire fence and through a maze of tall willows.

Years ago someone had dug a water hole here for cattle. Now only wildlings come to drink.

Over time nature reclaimed the huge hump of dirt and planted her own garden. This morning the rising sun revealed what she sowed.


Arnica   Arnica spp.

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Pink Elephants

Pink elephants: Hallucinations supposedly seen by those who’ve had too much to drink.

You won’t need whiskey to see these pink elephants. Just squat down and take a peek. It’s worth getting a bit damp and muddy: large head, big ears, long curving trunk. (Are those tusks?) Yup, it’s an elephant.

I encountered my first elephant heads years ago near Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The tall pink flower stalks and frilly fernlike leaves captivated me.

Years passed before I saw them again — this time a small patch near the corner of our woods. Shaded by willows, cool and moist. Almost hidden. Some years they do better than others and this is one.

Like its relatives Indian paintbrush and yellow rattle, elephant head has a penchant for the neighbours’ food, stealing it via the root system. Nice work if you can get it.

Elephant head grows across Canada and the western USA. There’s even a rare all-white form. Imagine that — an albino elephant. Now that might call for a drink.


Elephant head   Pedicularis groenlandica

Stop. Sit. Look.

Good advice. Glad I took it. Might have missed you otherwise.

On my homeward trek from the creek I took the cow path through the aspens. That’s when it happened.

I paused to look down and there you were. Never seen you around here before. But you’re well enough established that our lack of meeting is my oversight, not yours.

I scooted down, plunked my butt just off the trail and introduced myself.

You: spotted coralroot orchid. Me? Dumbstuck by your beauty.


Spotted coralroot orchid   Corallorhiza maculata

Between Two Worlds

The creek is is more than thirsty. Sluggish green water is all that remains, and that only in the deeper pools.

In between, just mud and drying rocks where butterflies puddle.

But in those slimy spots, a surprise: White water crowfoot.

The entire plant — except for the flowers — lives under water. Like land plants, the thread-like leaves make food but they absorb their carbon dioxide from water rather than air.

The leaves take on a fan shape, spreading out, interlocking with nearby plants and if conditions are right, form huge mats.

I found one today in full bloom. The water surface was blindingly white, each flower buoyed up by a short stalk, pointed to the sun.

An odd little plant related to columbine, clematis and larkspur.

Betwixt and between.


White water crowfoot   Ranunculus aquatilis ?